Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Kenny Smith dons yet another hat, builds bridges from Midway to Woodford County Chamber of Commerce

Kenny Smith in his Kennydid Gallery on Main Street
By Arion Wright
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Many merchants in Midway believe the town hasn’t received its due share of attention from the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce, but Midway merchant Kenny Smith is trying to build bridges between Midway and the chamber as the group’s leader this year.

Smith wears many hats in Midway. He is the president of the Midway Merchants Association, the artist coordination of the Francisco’s Farm Arts Festival, and the festival coordinator of the Midway Fall Festival. His newest hat is chairman of the Chamber of Commerce.

Smith “has been going to meetings, meeting new people, and getting along with Don Vizi, the director of the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce, where Midway needs influence,” said Leslie Penn, co-owner of the Historic Midway Museum Store.

Midway’s concerns with the chamber have been mainly about tourism. A few years ago, when Tom Bozarth was mayor, he floated the idea of a separate chamber of commerce and tourism commission for Midway, hoping that construction of a hotel in the city, and imposition of a bed tax to fund the commission, would lead to more promotion of Midway.

Woodford County has no hotel or motel, only bed and breakfasts with a total of 52 rooms, so the county bed tax generates only about $10,000 a year for the county tourism commission, which spends it on tourism promotion, as required by state law, in concert with the chamber.

Bozarth didn’t follow through on the idea, as the chamber hired Vizi and he reached out to Midway. Recently the Midway City Council, on recommendation from new Mayor Grayson Vandgerift, a former member of the tourist commission, included a contribution to the chamber in the city budget.

Vizi said in an interview, “Kenny Smith was selected as the chairman of the board of the chamber at the end of last year. He has been an excellent chairman and brings together Midway, Versailles, and the Woodford County businesses.”

Penn said the chamber hasn’t done a lot for Midway, and the only way things will change is if young, small retailers get involved. She thinks Smith is really reaching out to aim towards a different direction.

Smith said Midway needs a hotel. One is called for in the development plan of the Green Gables development on the former Weems property at the southeast corner of the Interstate 64 interchange, where McDonald’s and a Shell convenience store have located and a Subway is under construction.

Vizi said, “The main stumbling block is to convince a potential hotel owner that a hotel is needed in Woodford County and that there is a need for hotel rooms for events such as weddings, Keeneland, visitors, and business meetings. The chamber and the Tourism Commission have always pushed to get a hotel in Woodford County, whether that be in Midway or Versailles, as that would open up Woodford County to many other events and bring more people to Woodford County.”

Smith said Midway already has a lot of visitors because of horse farms, but he wants more people to be able to spend the night in Woodford County. It will “take someone or a corporation with the financial means to risk building a facility that would be economically feasible,” he said.

“We try to promote Woodford County as an experience, not a destination, so that tourists will want to come back,” he said. ”People will remember the experience more than they will the destination. We don’t want to lose the quaint, small-town and historic flavor.”

Penn sees another need. “I think they really need to help restaurants in the city of Midway,” she said. “Maybe if they got more involved in politics on the state level, transportation chamber and it would help us a lot.”

Smith, who is from Lexington, is the owner of the Kennydid Gallery. He said it opened in 2011 and offers a variety of fine art including photography, paintings and wood art.

“We also offer prints, books, postcards, and greeting cards by the displaying artists,” Smith said.  The artists include painter Laura Sullivan, Margo Adams, Jack R. Cochran, Heather Mullins Podna and area photographers.

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